The man accused of bludgeoning former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband with a hammer was caught up in conspiracies when he broke into her San Francisco home last year, his defense attorney said at his trial opened Thursday.
The attack on then-82-year-old Paul Pelosi in the early hours of Oct. 28, 2022, sent shockwaves through the political world just days before last year's midterm elections.
Defense attorney Jodi Linker said Thursday she won't dispute that her client David DePape attacked Paul Pelosi, an encounter caught on police body camera video. Instead, she will argue that he believed "with every ounce of his body" that he was taking action to stop corruption and the abuse of children by politicians and actors.
"This is not a 'whodunit.' But what the government fails to acknowledge is the 'whydunit,' and the why matters in this case," she said.
DePape pleaded not guilty to attempted kidnapping of a federal official and assault on the immediate family member of a federal official with intent to retaliate against the official for performance of their duties. Paul Pelosi is expected to testify next week.
Federal prosecutor Laura Vartain Horn told jurors that DePape started planning the attack in August and that the evidence and FBI testimony will show he researched his targets online, collecting phone numbers and addresses, even paying for a public records service to find information about Nancy Pelosi and others.
During her opening statement, Vartain Horn showed a photo of Paul Pelosi lying in a pool of blood. She also played a call DePape made to a television station repeating conspiracy theories.
"The evidence in this case is going to show that when the defendant used this hammer to break into the Pelosi's home he intended to kidnap Nancy Pelosi," Vartain Horn said, holding a hammer inside a plastic evidence bag.
DePape posted rants on a blog and an online forum about aliens, communists, religious minorities, and global elites. He questioned the results of the 2020 election and echoed the baseless, right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory that claims the U.S. government is run by a cabal of devil-worshipping pedophiles. The websites were taken down shortly after his arrest.
If convicted, DePape faces life in prison. He was also charged in state court with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary and other felonies. He pleaded not guilty to those charges. A state trial has not been scheduled.
In the courtroom Thursday were Christine Pelosi, one of the Pelosis' daughters, as well as Gypsy Taub, DePape's ex-girlfriend, and Taub's and DePape's two teenage sons. Taub called DePape's name softly and blew a kiss, and he smiled and waved in return.
A Canadian citizen, DePape moved to the United States more than 20 years ago after falling in love with Taub, a Berkeley pro-nudity activist well-known in the Bay Area, his stepfather, Gene DePape said. In recent years, David DePape had been homeless and struggling with drug abuse and mental illness, Taub told local media.
Federal prosecutors say DePape smashed his shoulder through a glass panel on a door in the back of the Pelosis' Pacific Heights mansion and confronted a sleeping Paul Pelosi, who was wearing boxer shorts and a pajama top.
"Where's Nancy? Where's Nancy?" DePape asked, standing over Paul Pelosi around 2 a.m. holding a hammer and zip ties, according to court records. Nancy Pelosi was in Washington and under the protection of her security detail, which does not extend to family members.
Paul Pelosi called 911 and two police officers showed up and witnessed DePape strike Paul Pelosi in the head with a hammer, knocking him unconscious, court records showed.
Nancy Pelosi's husband of 60 years later underwent surgery to repair a skull fracture and injuries to his right arm and hands.
After his arrest, DePape, 43, allegedly told a San Francisco detective that he wanted to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage. He said that if she told him the truth, he would let her go and if she lied, he was going to "break her kneecaps" to show other members of Congress there were "consequences to actions," according to prosecutors.
DePape, who lived in a garage in the Bay Area city of Richmond and had been doing odd carpentry jobs to support himself, allegedly told authorities he had other targets, including a women's and queer studies professor, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, actor Tom Hanks and President Joe Biden's son Hunter.
One of those targets is included in the defense's short witness list, though their name has been redacted. Other possible witnesses are DePape, Nancy Pelosi's chief of staff, Daniel Bernal, extremism and antisemitism researcher Elizabeth Yates, and federal public defender Catherine Goulet.
The prosecution's list of potential witnesses contains 15 names, including the surgeon who operated on Paul Pelosi, federal agents, San Francisco police officers and several first responders.
U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled last month that the jury can see footage that shows Paul Pelosi struggling to breathe and the police officers trying to stop the bleeding.
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